Deontay Wilder Earned the Respect of Every Fight Fan with Gallant Losing Effort

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2021

Tyson Fury, of England, left, fights Deontay Wilder in a heavyweight championship boxing match Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)
Chase Stevens/Associated Press

At last, Deontay Wilder got what he deserved.

Sort of.

Though a devastating right hand from Tyson Fury crashed unabated into the left side of his skull, rendered him competitively limp and careening toward the ring floor at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, his never-say-die credo was left intact.

And as he left the ring without an interview and was quickly whisked away in an ambulance to nearby University Medical Center for a precautionary post-traumatic evaluation, precisely no one among the 15,000-plus fans, foes and nonpartisan onlookers in the building had a contrarian leg to stand on when it came to critiquing his fighting spirit.

Meaning what an Olympic bronze, a professional championship and 10 successful title defenses never completely got him, a second straight concussive beatdown from Fury—this time without a humane, towel-waving surrender from the corner—was able to secure.

Undisputed heavyweight respect.

Such is the lingering residue of an instant classic.

Which Wilder's epic trilogy closer with Fury on Saturday night—even in defeat—certainly was.

"Unequivocally," ex-HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley told Bleacher Report. "Truly great fights always elevate both fighters. Some fans will struggle to recall who actually won, believe it or not. There's a very small universe of heavyweight title bouts like that, and they do live forever."

Chase Stevens/Associated Press

Indeed, the dramatic give-and-take of Fury-Wilder III—which included multiple knockdowns of both fighters before the final round—elevated the totality of a rivalry that had begun in 2018 with a disputed 12-round draw and continued in 2020 with Fury's savage seventh-round TKO win.

That fight ended when Wilder's then-trainer, ex-Olympic and professional welterweight champ Mark Breland, stopped proceedings when it appeared his man was seconds away from a third trip to the mat.

Wilder complained long and loud in the aftermath, lamenting that he had been given up before unconsciousness and later claiming, among other things, that Breland had been acting on Fury's behalf.

It was the sort of ridiculousness that needed a palate-cleanser far stronger than a new trainer.

Ex-opponent Malik Scott supplanted Breland and promised a fully utilized toolbox, and his man delivered early on with an active and effective jab that helped him better complement and unleash his signature right hand.

The latter weapon produced a pair of sudden knockdowns in the fourth round and intermittent moments of drama across the next six, but Wilder's strongest competitive attribute was not his power but his heart.

Chase Stevens/Associated Press

He persisted through a brutal battering that swelled both his eyes and drew blood from his mouth and left ear, and he instinctively tried to rise even after referee Russell Mora correctly called a halt to the fight during Wilder's semiconscious crash-landing to the canvas in the 11th.

Albeit clearly disappointed, Wilder did not protest the stoppage this time, though Fury said in his in-ring interview that he was snubbed again by his rival upon approaching Wilder's corner after the fight—apparently continuing the vitriol between the parties.

"He's got no love for me, Deontay Wilder," Fury said. "Do you know why? Because I beat him three times. I'm a sportsman, and I went over to him to show some love and respect, and he didn't want to give it back. That's his problem. I'll pray for him so God will soften his heart."

The petulance will leave a mark, according to Randy Gordon, ex-commissioner of the New York State Athletic Commission and current host of At the Fights on SiriusXM Radio.

"I think he is admired for his willingness to go out on his shield and the huge heart he showed," Gordon told Bleacher Report. "But his lack of both class and sportsmanship will stain his legacy."

Still, whether that legacy ends with Fury remains to be seen.

Wilder is 42-0 against everyone other than the British behemoth, and he remains a marketable commodity thanks to his vast promotional connections, compelling backstory and paralyzing one-punch power that's led to 41 stoppages.

A bout with another British hero, Anthony Joshua, was frequently talked-up a few years back when both fighters were unbeaten and early in their title reigns, and it could be revisited again in a last-stand context now that both are ex-champions who have been beaten twice each.

Joshua and Wilder are ranked second and third, respectively, by The Ring—trailing only Fury, who holds the magazine's championship belt, and Oleksandr Usyk, who beat Joshua in September to win the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO title belts.

Lampley thinks it's a fight that leans favorably toward Wilder—simply because it's not Fury.

"A soft tune-up, then Joshua, who is not as punishing as Fury," he said. "The 275 pounds are a different dimension. Weight won the fight along with Tyson's illogical countering accuracy. Lands on the sweet spot of the glove over and over. Amazing. Long arms like that shouldn't function as precisely inside as he does."

uncredited/Associated Press

And if there's no Joshua and no repeat title run, label him a modern-day Earnie Shavers.

Shavers was a full-time operator from 1969 to 1983, fighting at least once in each of those years while going 72-13-1 with 67 knockouts. He lost two heavyweight title fights along the way, dropping a unanimous 15-round decision to Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1977 and flooring Larry Holmes in the seventh round before losing via 11th-round TKO two years later.

He's frequently listed among the hardest punchers in boxing history, and Lampley edges Wilder ahead of him based on the latter man's championship-level success.

"Better resume than Shavers. Maybe," he said. "Similar in that there is an elite fraternity of right-hand bombers, and they are both definitely in it. Legends of the right cross. I think right now his legacy is the right hand and the grit he showed in all three fights."